Moonsigns  |  Band Guide  |  Blogs  |  In Pictures  |  Adult
Boston  |  Portland  |  Providence
Flashbacks  |  Letters  |  Media -- Dont Quote Me  |  News Features  |  Talking Politics  |  The Editorial Page  |  This Just In
BREAKING NEWS! :Dianne Wilkerson arrested

Deadbeat universities

It’s time for higher education to pay its fair share of city costs. Plus, how to improve the Boston City Council.
By EDITORIAL  |  November 14, 2007


Richard Freeland, who stepped down as Northeastern University’s president this past year, does not deserve to be the poster boy for overpaid leaders of academia — the nearly $2.9 million he received in 2006 included a substantial one-time severance package. Nonetheless, Freeland’s appearance at the top of the Chronicle of Higher Education’s annual list of moneymakers stands in telling contrast with the relative pittance Northeastern pays to the city of Boston.

Like all nonprofit institutions in Boston, Northeastern is exempt from paying property taxes on its estimated quarter-billion dollars’ worth of land and buildings. Were this not the case, Northeastern would face a $3 million annual tax bill, according to an Alliance of Boston Neighborhoods estimate. Instead, the institution pays $141,132 each year as a voluntary “payment in lieu of taxes” (PILOT). That’s one-twentieth of what it recently paid Freeland.

Our local colleges claim that they can’t afford to pay more. They also argue that they contribute to the city in many other ways, which is certainly true. But so do a lot of residents and businesses that do pay property taxes, which help to sustain basic infrastructure we all rely on, from road repairs to clean water.

It’s time for Northeastern, and other colleges, to pay more — and to do so through an agreed-upon, standard formula.

Currently, the city collects roughly $7.5 million in total PILOT payments from Boston’s colleges and universities. That figure should be at least doubled, according to many — including Mayor Thomas Menino and city councilors such as Steve Murphy, who have long advocated on this issue without success.

That extra $7.5 million might seem a minor portion of Boston’s $2.2 billion budget, but it is greatly needed, and might impel increased PILOT agreements on other exempted properties, including some hospitals and state-owned property.

And it’s not just the dollar figure that needs changing; it’s also the disparity in what various schools contribute. It is long past time for standardized PILOT agreements to be done by formula, instead of the current set of haphazard individual deals — some of which are volunteered by colleges and universities out of a sense of good citizenship, others extorted by the city when leaders have an opportunity to obstruct a school’s plans.

It makes no sense, for instance, that Boston University pays $4.4 million each year, and Harvard $1.8 million, while Emerson College, Berklee College of Music, and Wentworth Institute pay just over $350,000 combined. Simmons College pays nothing at all.

Certainly not every school should pay the same dollar amount. A campus that houses and feeds many of its students might use more city resources — sewage, water, fire, trash collection, etc. — than a commuter school, to say the least. And buildings housing science labs and lecture halls should be treated differently than those leased by universities to commercial retail outlets, which, under the current agreement, are also exempt from paying property taxes if located on school-owned land.

It will be hard to find a formula that everyone finds fair. But it would be impossible to find one that’s less fair than the one currently in place.

Some elected officials view the current expansion plans of Harvard, BC, BU, and other schools as an opportunity for more PILOT negotiation by duress.

Instead, the city’s colleges and universities should work with those officials to forge a PILOT formula based on some combination of factors, including acreage, student population, and assessed property value.

This could also be an opportunity to offer incentives for good neighborly behavior. The city might, for instance, offer PILOT deductions for schools that achieve benchmarks in energy conservation, safety, or reduced complaints from residential neighbors.

But no college that pays its president seven figures should be allowed to cry poverty to get out of PILOT anymore.

City counsel
The anemic voter turnout for this month’s city election says more about the state of city politics than about the apathy of the electorate. Bostonians did not suddenly lose their zeal for participatory democracy after flocking to the polls in huge numbers in 2004 and 2006.

What they lost interest in is the Boston City Council, which has seen nearly all its relevance and power seep away since expanding from nine to 13 members and going to district representation in 1983.

It is time to undo that mistake, through a voter referendum that returns us to an all at-large council.

Councilors elected city-wide, particularly those at or near the top of the ticket, used to have real political power in Boston. Mayors could not easily dismiss them because they could not easily defeat them.

But district councilors, with small bases of support, pose little threat to the mayor as a potential challenger. In fact, in practice, most of them have the mayor to thanks for their jobs.

Consider the four newest city councilors. Menino’s political machinery got his former staffer Salvatore LaMattina elected in District One, and his friend Bill Linehan elected in District Two. New District Nine councilor Mark Ciommo also has Menino to thank, at least in part.

1  |  2  |   next >
  • Citizen arrest
    As we brace for a bloody summer, the Mayor misses two opportunities to build trust between the city and its police
  • Malign neglect
    Are the media abetting the death of Boston politics?
  • Media Moses
    What's behind Pastor Bruce Wall's nose for news?
  • More more >
  Topics: The Editorial Page , Tom Menino , Felix Arroyo , Boston University ,  More more >
  • Share:
  • RSS feed Rss
  • Email this article to a friend Email
  • Print this article Print
Deadbeat universities
More qualified staff for our City Council are needed with talents and skills to use the web to improve council communications with the people. Annual Reports of city departments are made available in paper format at the Council offices where the public documents should be made available more widely at // or at // Council stenographic machine output should be made available. Why have the Council stenographer and hold back the stenographic machine output transcripts.
By on 11/15/2007 at 8:42:33
Deadbeat universities
Hate to break to you guys the last time the Boston City council changed from a mix of at large and districts was during the late 1940's in an effort to deny blacks that were elected, seats to the council since there was no Federal Voting Rights Act to guarantee that minorities could sit on the council those in charge got away with it (reference "Death of a Jewish-American Neighborhood"). Which leads to this point any attempt to change the current format would result in a federal lawsuit based on previous stated law. Though easier said than done the right of voting needs to be ingrained in poorer communities. Honestly the caliber of those running needs improvement. Till then nothing will happen until the community takes the "bull by the horns" and once for all decide for itself that voting means power and power leads to one's voice being heard.
By arver1 on 11/16/2007 at 2:44:44

election special
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   DICTATOR MCCAIN?  |  October 27, 2008
    Don’t laugh: if the Arizona ‘maverick’ is elected, he’ll complete the job Bush started
  •   A STEP FORWARD  |  October 22, 2008
    Why the Connecticut Supreme Court got it right. Plus, ominous noises from the right wing.
  •   EXPLOSIVELY BAD  |  October 09, 2008
    The potential for even more public disillusionment and anger is huge as events outstrip the nation’s political imagination
  •   DEBATABLE  |  September 24, 2008
    Can Obama show grit? Will he connect? Can McCain stop lying? Will he remember?
  •   BAD CRAZINESS  |  September 17, 2008
    Wall Street’s meltdown is more dangerous than realized. McCain is clueless, but does Obama recognize the root of the problem?

 See all articles by: EDITORIAL

RSS Feed of for the most popular articles
 Most Viewed   Most Emailed 

Featured Articles in Books:
Tuesday, October 28, 2008  |  Sign In  |  Register
Phoenix Media/Communications Group:
Copyright © 2008 The Phoenix Media/Communications Group